How does the law define reasonable accommodation?

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Question:

How does the law define reasonable accommodation?

Answer:

In employment law, an employer is entitled to make reasonable accommodation for an employee's disability or an employee's religious beliefs. What constitutes a reasonable accommodation depends on the context. 

For an employee with a disability, providing a reasonable accommodation means giving assistance or making changes in the job or the workplace that will allow the employee to do the job. Reasonable accommodations fall into three general categories:

  • Changes to the job application process that enable a qualified individual with a disability to apply and be considered for the position. For example, an employer may need to provide an accessible interview space, give an employee more time to complete a skills test, or provide a test in an alternative format (such as reading test questions to an employee who is blind). 
  • Changes to the work environment, the circumstances in which the job is performed, or the manner in which the job is performed, that will enable a qualified person with a disability to perform the job's essential functions. Such accommodations might include lowering the height of a desktop to accommodate an employee's wheelchair or providing TDD telephone equipment for an employee with impaired hearing. 
  • Changes that enable an employee with a disability to enjoy the same benefits and privileges that other employees enjoy. For instance, an employer might outfit a company car with pedal extensions to accommodate an employee with dwarfism or move the company picnic or party to an accessible location. 

Employers also have to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee's religious beliefs or practices. This might mean not scheduling an employee to work on a Sabbath day or relaxing a company dress code so that an employee can wear religious garments. The law is still evolving as to how much religious expression an employer must allow at work as a reasonable accommodation. For example, an employee's religious beliefs might require the employee to profess his or her faith or attempt to proselytize coworkers. However, accommodating these beliefs could be disruptive in the workplace, or even lead other employees to feel harassed. The lines on this issue continue to be drawn. 

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